#7: Driven past distractions

Looking ahead to not-E3, and what needs to be a blockbuster year for Xbox.

#7: Driven past distractions

It is not-E3 next month. (It is only E3 if I am in Los Angeles in short sleeves, picking at an Eggs Benedict with friends I don’t see often enough.) But, just like last year, June will play host to a series of livestreams and pre-recorded broadcasts from the game industry’s great and good in a bid to approximate the real thing.

This year, I hope they get a little closer to the spirit of it. Not-E3 2020 was understandably cobbled together in a hurry, and too many of the parties involved took the lack of a rigid schedule as an excuse to disrespect their audience’s time (‘And now, a 23-minute developer diary about a JRPG you have never heard of, and will never play’). Now we’ve all settled into our pandemic lifestyles, I’m hoping for better this year. I will be doing my bit too: I will stay up too late, consistently have one drink more than I should, and apologise to everyone I meet for being late. It’s probably time I learned to make a decent Hollandaise, too.

As the date draws near, the hype machine, so quiet under Covid, has naturally started to stir from its slumber. This week we’ve had reports of an imminent announcement of the 4K-enabled, DLSS-supporting Switch Pro; Sony has started early with a showcase for Horizon Forbidden West; we’ve had release dates for new Pokémon games, an announcement for Dragon Quest XIII, and rumours of a Final Fantasy Soulslike from Nioh developer Team Ninja. I could go on. That, after a terribly quiet year, is more like it — and also only the start.

While most people love E3 because of all the hype and announcements, for me it’s because the entire industry, pretty much, is in the same place at the same time, and everyone is showing us what they’ve been up to. It is an opportunity to zoom out and take a broader look at where the game industry is at, and where it’s heading. This is my favourite stuff to think about, and talk about, and most of all to write. Indeed, it’s the main reason this newsletter exists.

This year, I’m most intrigued by — and worried about — Microsoft. Phil Spencer has done a terrific job correcting course since taking over at Xbox, but I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t disappointed by Microsoft’s E3 showing. Their firstparty output was pretty miserable throughout the Xbox One era. Every year I’d go to E3 thinking that surely this year would be different, then leave their press conference disappointed, the announcement of yet another Forza or Gears ringing in my ears. Spencer always had good news to share: on the software side, with backwards compatibility, xCloud and Game Pass; at the business end, with a slew of acquisitions; and on hardware, with the mid-gen Xbox One X and the build-up to Series S and X. But there were never any big surprises from its ever-growing studio network.

That’s fair enough, to a point. Spencer’s job when taking over was to find a way to win back the goodwill that was lost in the transition from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. And by generation’s end he’d just about done it. But this year must be different. With the Series consoles released, there will be no new hardware to talk about. Backwards compatibility and Game Pass are now core elements of the Xbox value proposition, things that come as standard and are taken for granted. And it surely cannot announce an acquisition to top the Bethesda deal. In other words, Microsoft has run out of distractions. All that remains is games.

Over the past few years the Xbox division has launched bleeding-edge hardware, developed industry-leading services, and bought out some of the biggest names in the industry. It is time some of those studios gave me a few games to be excited to get through the subscription service I pay for, and to play on that powerful console I bought. Sure, I love thinking and writing about the biz stuff around games, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love playing the things as well. E3 is the starting station for the game-industry hype train. It would be nice, for once, if Microsoft were the one that made me choke on my Eggs Benedict.


  • Unreal Engine 5 is now in Early Access. Developers are already doing crazy things with it; excited players are definitely keeping their expectations firmly in check.

  • To offset any environmental savings made from the demise of physical media, the stock market’s GameStop is getting into NFTs. Of course it is. 

  • Sony’s forays into PC gaming have proven successful, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan announced during an investor call which seemingly revealed that Uncharted 4 will be the next to head to Steam. 

  • Flavourworks, maker of so-styled ‘interactive live-action’ game Erica, isn’t just working on more games, but a TV show as well, according to this

  • My copy of Ask Iwata is out for delivery today. This isn’t news, but I ask that you share my excitement.

There likely won’t be an update tomorrow; I am working on secret things. Have a grand weekend.